The Shallows (2016)

This is not Jaws but several times it spikes the same level of scares. From beginning to end it had my attention, I was never bored, and a few times I was shocked out of my seat by what I saw.

Blake Lively shows some incredible strength as an actor carrying 2/3 of the film on her own in the water trying to get to safety against a gargantuan shark. Along with excellent writing and acting/directing, the effects are effectively terrifying.

theshallowsposter

The Shallows
Cast

Blake Lively, Óscar Jaenada, Angelo Jose

Directed by

Jaume Collet-Serra

Written by

Anthony Jaswinski

Other Info

Drama, Horror, Thriller
Rated PG-13
1h 26min

There are quite a few films out there that feature a blond girl surfing. Blue Crush, Soul Surfer, Aqua Dulce, and more. The posters are like this one, full of a beauty with a board. That is usually all it takes to bring a big crowd. In this case, while the image is the same, this is not just a girl surfer movie. Blake lively had a surf double, Isabella Nichols, who is the no. 1 junior champion surfer in the world. But with surfing scenes excluded, Blake did most of her own stunts. This is a very physical film and sometimes her physicality is crucial to telling the story. Plot is limited. Nancy (Blake Lively) is recovering from her mother’s tragic death by traveling to Mexico for some serious surfing. IN a very beautiful and secluded cove, she finds some near-perfect waves and starts enjoying them. There are two Mexican dudes there and they seem much more at ease with the beach than she is. They call to her but she never gets close to them. The guys leave and Nancy is face to face with a shark. What happens next is what makes it a thriller.

The following 2/3 of the film consists of basically one actor (Blake Lively), a big scary shark, incidentally the shark looks great, and an endearing seagull that Nancy talks to and is comforted by. shallows2You wouldn’t think that thrills and suspense could be generated with such minimal props but they can be and they are in the Shallows. There is an excellent use of 1/2 above 1/2 underwater camerawork. Instead of being clueless what’s going on under the surface, the director shows you and it’s even scarier. I have to take issue and challenge the movie calling itself horror. While there are unpleasant jumps here and there that shock the viewer, it’s a bit too “woman-against-nature” Survivor-like to be considered horror. If one of the surfers was a serial killer as a side story, I might accept the label as accurate. As it is, I see it as a thriller and a great one at that.

shallows3This is not Jaws but several times it spikes the same level of scares. From beginning to end it had my attention, I was never bored, and a few times I was shocked out of my seat by what I saw. Much care has been given to the CGI and props to make the shark attacks look real. The “final battle” between the shark and Lively is the stuff that award-winning thrillers are made of. I absolutely loved the way the director handled that. The Shallows is a top-notch thriller made with simplified tools. Blake Lively gives a strong physical and emotional performance. The film looses no stars with me, I give it a 5/5. Go enjoy it while it’s still in theaters.

Alex of Venice

Mary Elizabeth Winstead fills the screen with beauty and strength as she maneuvers through the end of her marriage and the beginning of taking charge of her own happiness.

*This review contains spoilers.

This movie is a blueprint for letting go of a failed marriage, embracing change when you feel too old, and being unselfish through divorce for the sake of your child. Believe it or not, there is a lot of joy in Alex of Venice.

set_alex_of_venice_poster

Alex of Venice
Cast

Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Chris Messina, Don Johnson

Directed by

Chris Messina

Written by

Jessica Goldberg, Katie Nehra, Justin Shilton

Other Info

Drama
Rated R
1h 26min

I’ve been crossing paths with people who got married before age twenty and thinking they all must be crazy. I changed so much in my twenties. For me, it was necessary to “find myself” through my twenties to have the marriage I enjoy now. I got married at 33.

Chris Messina (Devil) directed this film that shows the sudden jolt that occurs when one who married young realizes she’s with the wrong person. What does one do in such a situation? Alex in Venice shows us how one woman deals with it.

Alex (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a workaholic attorney who clearly hasn’t analyzed her life enough. Her marriage is all but lifeless. Her husband George (Chris Messina) is the one who takes the drastic step of moving out. Actually, he doesn’t just move out, he flees. Alex is forced to grapple with taking care of her father (Don Johnson) and son alone. It has the potential to break her but as we see, she becomes stronger. Winstead has alluring eyes that brighten up any film she’s in (10 Cloverfield Lane, Swiss Army Man). She does a great job playing this role, its believable what she’s going through. She encounters casual sex (only one time), the ecstasy drug (yep she goes there), and partying in hopes of discovering the self she could have been and in fact now is. It’s all done with mixed success. In the end she becomes stronger, and this type of separation could make one weak.

In the final scenes, Alex and George show in their tender conversation with their son that they are indeed divorcing but that they both pledge to be there for him in the strongest love they can. It’s a tear-jerker scene but also inspiring in that it shows the strength people can have, along with maturity, when a marriage just doesn’t work out. Society judges enough without judgement in books and movies. This movies gives an image like a lighthouse of the way it can be when both people put their egos aside, admit it’s a dead marriage and then work toward a good divorce. It’s not a “feel good” movie but I found inspiration for the times in life you have to let go and walk forward with courage. This film achieved what it set out to do, I give it a 5/5.

The Final Girls

“Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve dreamed of being the final girl.” Duncan

Just like “Scream” in the 90’s, this film seizes the opportunity to mock and pay homage to 1970-1980’s horror flicks. It sets and hits its own comedic, horrific mark 100% on target. This is, hands down, a lot of fun.

The Final Girls (2015)
Cast
Taissa Farmiga

as Max Cartwright

Malin Ackerman

as Nancy / Amanda Cartwright

Alexander Ludwig

as Chris Briggs

Directed by
Todd Strauss-Schulson
Written by
M.A. Fortin, Joshua John Miller
Other Info

Comedy, Horror
Rated PG-13
1h 28min

This film is a refreshing break to be enjoyed most certainly by horror buffs, specifically, 80’s horror buffs. There’s also some laugh a minute comedy going o here. There’s been a movement in films recently of paying homage to 80’s films. The quality of these campy films has been mixed. An example of one that got it right in “Turbo Kid.” After watching that film, I felt the ectoplasm of Mad Max dripping off me. It was jam packed with stuff like Walkman’s and synthesized fight scenes. “The Last Girls” is in that same vein.

Through a freak supernatural event, high school seniors are transported inside a horror movie. One there, one is elated that a movie they loved so much is now their real life setting. Things happen, some funny, others horrifying. We hear the student’s theories on how to survive in a horror movie. Oh and yes, there is a killer like Jason Voorhies in “Friday the 13th.”

One member of the crew has a special challenge. Her once famous slasher-film actress mom has died in the real world but same is in fact resurrected in the film. There is a chance to save her, if she could only figure out how. All of this takes place at Summer camp where the killings are just as brutal as a 1980’s serious horror flick.

Someone notes that the last girl is always the one to kill the killer, hence the movie’s title. Some may be put off by the corny themes but I found it hilarious. At one point, they think a murder is fake so they taste the “corn syrup.” Guess what, they discover it isn’t corn syrup. This is really funny and I won’t make a big deal about it that the same gag is in “Tropic Thunder” when Ben Stiller’s character plays with director “Damien’s” beheaded skull. All of this film is borrowed or stolen, that gives us the right to laugh at it. For horror buffs who can step away for an hour or so and have a good laugh, I recommend this film.

Review: The Fantasy and Adventure Success of ‘The Dark Tower’

When dealing with a monster novel series set to film, there is always the challenge of meeting high expectation of the book fans. I don’t know about that but I can say I had a great time watching this adventure/fantasy/action film. It had great actors, a more than functional plot, a villain and a satisfying conclusion: just the kind of Summer film I’ve been looking for!

The Dark Tower (2017)
PG-13 | 1h 35min | Action, Adventure, Fantasy | 4 August 2017 (USA)

The last Gunslinger, Roland Deschain, has been locked in an eternal battle with Walter O’Dim, also known as the Man in Black, determined to prevent him from toppling the Dark Tower, which holds the universe together. With the fate of the worlds at stake, good and evil will collide in the ultimate battle as only Roland can defend the Tower from the Man in Black
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Writers: Akiva Goldsman (screenplay), Jeff Pinkner (screenplay) | 3 more credits »
Stars: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor

Nikolaj Arcel directed this film, he is known for A Royal Affair and Truth About Men. He has also been a writer on many films and tv shows such as Millennium. In the IMDB media section, you can see him working alongside Ron Howard so we are talking about an experienced director for sure. With so much going on in the plot of this film, that is required.

There is a cast of thousands here (almost) but the three primary characters are played by Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, and Tom Taylor. Elba is the gunslinger, a frightful presence for good. The things he can do while loading his guns in mid-air will be talked about for decades. McConaughey plays the Man in Black. He is a terrifying villain who does a LOT of killing, you could subtitle the film “How to kill 100 guys in 10 days.” Please note that unlike some modern villains, he doesn’t threaten he just kills. His was an excellent casting choice. Tom Taylor plays Jake, the protagonist boy the film revolves around. He has done scattered tv but a lot when you consider his young age. All three were fine casting choices and serve the film well.

This film is based on a 8 book series by Stephen King of the same title. I have not read any of them but I loved this movie. The story is as follows: Jake sees things and sketches them. He gets flack from his stepfather and kids at school for being a geek and a weirdo. He sees a tower at the center of the universe that protects us from all evil, a man in black who is attempting to destroy the tower through clairvoyant children he abducts through portals, and a gunslinger who protects the tower. When the evil beings that work for the man in black come for Jake, he escapes into a portal, meets the gunslinger and they are forced into a battle for everything good against evil.

I really enjoyed this film. That may be because I have read a lot of Stephen King’s novels so I know his hip writing style. This is a fantasy film that weaves in and out of the real world. You can’t try to make sense of the fantasy part because it’s inside King’s head. I for one enjoy going in there. I think to enjoy this film you must first surrender and expect nothing. That way, the exciting cgi monsters and action scenes will have their intended impact. If you compare it to any other film, you’ll be disappointed. It is simple and perhaps could have been more elaborate through 2 films, after all it is based on 8 books. Still, its simplicity makes it accessible.

I had a great evening at the movies taking this adventure portal. I recommend the ride to you!

9/10

Final Girl

Something different for the girl-kicks-ass genre.

Some movies give you backstory. Others expect you to fill in the blanks of why, when, and how. The truth is, “The Final Girl” doesn’t need much backstory, it starts with the action right away.

Final Girl (2015)
Cast
Abigail Breslin

as Veronica

Wes Bentley

as William

Logan Huffman

as Danny

Directed by
Tyler Shields
Written by
Adam Prince, Stephen Scarlata, Alejandro Seri, Johnny Silver
Other Info

Action, Drama, Horror
Rated R
1h 30min

I love low budget, simple, action-filled horror films like this. The story may not be plausible but you get what they are trying to do. It’s something about vengeance and something about victory … good triumphing over evil.

Abigail Breslin has truly grown up and shows how she can act and fight in her role as Veronica. I loved her in “Signs” as a little one and more recently in “Maggie.” She played a zombie great in that. She’s one to watch! The story consists of a group of popular scumbags in high school who “hunt girls.” I mean that literally, not that they are ferociously seeking sex. A man loses his wife and daughter to them and decides to train a young girl to defeat these truly evil and disturbed young men.

Most the action is at night. It unfolds more or less as you would expect. Like a james bond movie, it’s fun to see Veronica use her techniques in the real arena. For those who dig girl-kick-ass films, this is right up your alley. I loved every minute of it. It is simple, cool, hip, a little scary, and full of vengeance. How can you NOT like a movie with all that in it? This is a perfect movie, I highly recommend it.

Krampus

“You better watch out.”

A lot of kids beg their parents to watch horror. You can’t protect your kids from everything. I’d say let your guard down with this one. It received a pg-13 rating but I think kids 10 and up (who are over the Santa Claus thing, otherwise there may be all sorts of confusion) will have a rock and rolling time.

Krampus (2015)
Cast
Adam Scott

as Tony Engel

Toni Collette

as Sarah Engel

David Koechner

as Howard

Directed by
Michael Dougherty
Written by
Todd Casey, Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields
Other Info

Comedy, Fantasy, Horror
Rated PG-13
1h 38min

There are some really scary scenes but if you talk about it with your kids, they should get a kick out of it. “Krampus” is also a film for grownups. Fans of straight up horror may be put off by the juxtaposition of comedy, but for those wanting something sarcastic and quite different in horror, this is a good one to see.

Rotten Tomatoes didn’t like this film much. What that means s, a compendium of critics’ ratings averaged out below 67%. That almost kept me away from this film. I’m glad I persisted and saw it, despite the critics. It was a lot of fun!

I wouldn’t call this film horror. It could better be described as a Christmas comedy like “Home Alone” with horror conventions. If that sounds good to you, you have to go see this film. It starts out with all the trappings of a John Hughes film and then busts out with amoral killing, blood, guts, and even a doll that resemble sthe one from “Saw.”

The Krampus christmas devil is not new. From what I can gather, the mythology has been around for centuries. Apparently the Christmas devil will come visit you if you renounce Christmas and good will toward men. I think it’s hilarious how they took this story and made it into an instant Christmas classic. I’m a teacher of 28 ten year olds and I asked for a show of hands yesterday of how many kids had seen “Krampus.” The tally was: 28/28. Sometime old fogies on Rotten Tomatoes measure a film by tradition values and trends. One shouldn’t do that with Krampus. It will be on my Christmas viewing list for sure along with “A Christmas Story,” “Nacho Libre,” “A Miracle of 34th Street,” and “A Christmas Carol.”

As an aside, I’ll be pulling back from using Rotten Tomatoes as a first line impression of movies I am curious about. I think what’s happening is a lot of movies are not me seen by yours truly due to a low score with the critics. Sure, you take a chance not reading a rating for a movie but at the same time, that rating can act as a sort of brainwashing, a muddying of the waters that are your views about the movies. I’ve loved RT for years and I still do in a way but my usage is now going to be far less. Now, go rent Krampus and have some scary laughs >:) I gave it 5/5 stars because it is exactly what it advertises to be and I love movies that are true to themselves that way.

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

Woody Harrelson plays a hateful Colonel leading man against monkeys. This is the final installment of the Planet of the Apes saga and it takes you for a rollicking ride that I for one enjoyed a lot! Listen below to me talking about it on my podcast the DRP or just keep reading this text review.

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)
PG-13 | 2h 20min | Action, Adventure, Drama | 14 July 2017 (USA)

After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind.
Director: Matt Reeves
Writers: Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves | 2 more credits »
Stars: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn

Director Matt Reeves is a little on the “well done” side. He was born in 1966 and created a couple other “Planet” films before this one. When you have Spiderman: Homecoming directed by a guy born in 1981, it’s nice for me at least to see an older, more soulful aged dude working on mammoth projects like this. He had to make a lot of choices, between war scenes and the soulful cgi of the monkeys’ faces. I’d say he did good. I rated this one a 10/10.

The concept is that a splinter military group has broken off from the main one. The group is led by “the Colonel” played by Woody Harrelson. He hates the apes and the “simian flu” virus they initiated so much he will kill them to extinguish it. He will even kill his only son once infected. The flu takes away your ability to speak and degrades you to a primal state.

Caesar is the leader, the cgi is excellent. You start to view him as a real actor playing a role. All the monkeys are this way. Watching their expression is part of the allure of this film. As with all of these films, we learn the evil that humans are capable of. There is some comic relief in a new character called “Bad Ape.” There is tragedy and there is vengeance. The ending is like a fresh drink of water but alas, it is bittersweet.

For fans of the franchise I say this is a MUST SEE. I found no fault in this film. It is the best of this Summer for me, so far.

10/10

The Dark (2005)

Welsh legends and ghost sightings permeate this film. Is the daughter really dead? That is the question. Sean Bean’s character as her father seems to be the stoic sensible one while her mother Maria Bello’s is more desperate to believe anything. Was anyone duped? That’s what we waited to see through the running time of this film.

The Dark (2005)
R | 1h 33min | Horror, Mystery, Thriller | 26 January 2006 (Germany)

In mourning over the tragic drowning of their daughter Sarah, James and Adèle are visited by Ebrill, a young girl who claims she died 60 years ago – and bears a startling resemblance to Sarah.
Director: John Fawcett
Writers: Simon Maginn (novel), Stephen Massicotte (screenplay)
Stars: Sean Bean, Maria Bello, Sophie Stuckey

The director John Fawcett is also a producer, known for Ginger Snaps (2000), and Orphan Black (2013). Ginger Snaps has achieved cult status and is always a hoot to watch for it’s horror and teen ridiculous nature. Orphan Black is a tv show I really enjoyed, mostly due to the lead actress. Both of these works took enormous chances in doing something different. That’s probably why both were so successful.

Sean Bean and Maria Bello do a good job but since Sean Bean is so eponymous with The Lord Of The Rings, I couldn’t help but expect him to pick up a sword or slay and Orc. He wants his ex to accept their daughter is dead because he is rational, not unfeeling. Bello will not accept this and that’s what takes us into the supernatural portion of this film.

I’d have to say this one is a lot more predictable than Fawcett’s other two works I have mentioned. For that reason, I would recommend it as a light mystery/horror but not one you would clear your schedule to see. It does drag on a bit and doesn’t keep you guessing much with it’s simple story line. Add it to your Amazon Prime “worth watching” list, but maybe not your “must see” one.

6/10

Okja (2017)

Very weird but very sad film about pigs, well something they call pigs but are much larger and have a different snout. It’s also about the food industry, GMO, and the evils food corporations do to livestock.

Okja (2017)
TV-MA | 2h | Action, Adventure, Drama | 28 June 2017 (USA)

Meet Mija, a young girl who risks everything to prevent a powerful, multi-national company from kidnapping her best friend – a fascinating animal named Okja.
Director: Joon-ho Bong (as Bong Joon Ho)
Writers: Joon-ho Bong (screenplay) (as Bong Joon Ho), Jon Ronson (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
Stars: Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Seo-Hyun Ahn

The fact that this is a Netflix movie belies the amazing cgi of Okja. He resembles a baby elephant in his skin and size. The interaction he has with the little girl is mesmerizing. 

My favorite performance is from Jake Gyllenhaal. He plays a tv cooking show personality who the leader of the company (Tilda Swinton) tries to put on tv to make him the “face of the company.” 

You have a little chasing, a lot of jokes, some touching moments and plan on feeling some outrage when you see the way we do things in the food industry. At times it suffers from going too fast and not slowing down to develop characters enough but I ser very little to criticize about this film.

For an incredible movie experience, check this one out on Netflix streaming.

9/10

Colossal (2016)

Codependency in relationships, jealousy from childhood friends, the empowerment of women, alcoholism, and Japanese monster movies, these are what the film Colossal works with as its palette. It is definitely a unique way of presenting these tried and true, effective themes in a movie. The writer/director relates them all together to make his statement in a convincing and effective way.

Colossal (2016)
R | 1h 49min | Action, Comedy, Drama | 21 April 2017 (Canada)

Gloria is an out-of-work party girl forced to leave her life in New York City, and move back home. When reports surface that a giant creature is destroying Seoul, she gradually comes to the realization that she is somehow connected to this phenomenon.
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Writer: Nacho Vigalondo
Stars: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Austin Stowell

Writing and directing here is Nacho Vigalondo. He is a Spanish actor/director/writer born in 1977 with 21 directing credits to his name. The only really large scale American film is this one but he did direct a V / H / S sequel (oh my). At any rate, I get the feeling he may be better at the feel of Spanish culture movie than an American one. There are times the bar seems unreal and non-relatable. Beyond that, you have the two themes of Japanese monster movie culture and a city park in America at play and I’m not sure if he was mimicking rather than calling upon first-hand experiences. I will be looking for something more amazing from him in the future because I like horror and I like quirky yet visionary story-lines like this one.

Anne Hathaway does a pretty good job in this, though I found her at times to be “playing” an alcoholic rather than being damaged as one in real life. Maybe a grittier actress would have worked better. She does a good job however as a voice for women who are abused emotionally and physically in relationships which helps the strange metaphor of this film across to make a statement. I like her in everything she does, I just question the megastar being cast in a film such as this. She seems to pampered and that gets in the way for the message here I think. Jason Sudeikis is truly scary in this which is weird. He’s always such a buffoon. I think his childhood role and the adult bar owner role fit together seamlessly. It was interesting seeing him in a serious role and he worked with the story.

The story here is that a woman, recently out of an abusive relationship, winds up somehow back in her small hometown where she discovers an old friend and some strange happenings. Namely, when she drinks heavily and blacks out, her actions seem to be in exact parallel to a real life Godzilla-type monster in Seoul Korea. She sees the damage on CNN. Through trial and error she finds ways to avoid innocent bloodshed but her bar owning lifelong friend wants to show that he is pretty colossal as well and gets access to the same power.Like many metaphorical films, it ends open. We must decide for ourselves what really happened here. That left me feeling a bot cheated but also challenged to come up with my own meanings and conclusions which I think is the director’s intent. If you want a simple, thinking movie to talk about afterward with a good friend, this one’s for you. It isn’t horror or monster though, be forewarned. More of a drama about the abuse women suffer from men an how alcoholism is used as a crutch to avoid making something out of your life. Don’t expect monsters but rather an artsy, interesting film.

8/10

You can rent or buy this title now streaming on Amazon Video.